Jonah Bolden

Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid usher 76ers past Nets and into 2nd round

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Joel Embiid showed no mercy. He buried a 3-pointer that gave the 76ers a 24-point lead and waved his arms like a boss, exhorting an already jacked crowd to get louder.

Philly obeyed its most popular player and went wild – and the All-Star center believes the good times have only just started.

“We think we can win it all,” Embiid said.

Ben Simmons thumped his chest after a big dunk , Embiid pointed toward an overmatched defender on a slam of his own, and Philadelphia flexed its offensive muscle from the opening tip to beat the Brooklyn Nets 120-100 on Tuesday night and close out their Eastern Conference playoff series in five games.

Up next, a second round series against the Toronto Raptors, who dropped their playoff opener before winning four straight against Orlando – the same thing the Sixers did to Brooklyn.

“We still have more to do. A lot more to do,” coach Brett Brown said.

Any late arrivals missed the defining moments of the game from a jovial Sixers team that enjoyed toying with the sickly Nets.

The Sixers stunned the Nets with a 14-0 run in front of the loudest and rowdiest packed house of the season.

Embiid again shook off a bad left knee and had six points and five rebounds in the first two minutes to chants of “MVP!” The Nets later trailed 20-2, and Simmons put an exclamation point on the stunning first quarter when he drove the paint and used a right-handed jam to make it 32-12 – with a thump of his chest for emphasis.

“They did whatever they wanted before we could even get on the board,” Nets All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell said.

Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley was soundly booed during pregame introductions and each time he touched the ball in the first. Dudley had stirred trouble when he said Simmons was “average” in the half-court. Dudley bumped Embiid in Game 4, triggering a skirmish with Jimmy Butler that spilled into the stands. Dudley heard “Dudley sucks!” chants from opening tipoff and got a view of this rout from the bench in the second half. He flashed a few smiles in the waning moments, his time as a playoff name over.

The teams tangled again in the final two minutes, and the deep reserves had to be separated. Sixers mascot Franklin ran out wearing oversized gold boxing gloves to bring a dose of levity to the ruckus.

Philadelphia’s Jonah Bolden and Greg Monroe, and Brooklyn’s Dzanan Musa and Radians Kurucs were ejected.

“Our team was physical the whole time,” Simmons said. “I think we need to take that up to Toronto.”

Embiid got the last laugh in the second quarter with a baseline dunk over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and pointed at the hapless defender. Embiid was hit with a technical but by then, who cared? Embiid buried a 3 from the top of the arc that made it 41-17 and about blew the roof off the arena. Sixers general manager Elton Brand, who sits in the first row of the press seating, had his eyes locked on the scoreboard for each replay of the big man’s 3.

Embiid had 23 points and 13 rebounds, Simmons had 13 points and no starter played more than 27 minutes in a game that could have been called off after the first quarter.

Hollis-Jefferson scored 21 points for the Nets, who head into the offseason after their first playoff series since 2015.

“We never made a push back,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I’m surprised we didn’t come out with more grit, more fight.”

Brand is as much to credit for the Sixers’ success as anyone, using his rookie season as GM to orchestrate trades for Butler and Tobias Harris that kept Philly humming along in a 51-win season. But even before the trades, the Sixers were expected to make it this far in the playoffs. They did last season and were knocked out by Boston in the East semis in five games. The midseason trades for Harris and Butler were expected to push the Sixers to at least the conference final. Brown has said the goal is to play in the NBA Finals.

“They’re going for big things. They can compete for a championship, quite honestly,” Atkinson said.

TIP-INS

Nets: Joe Harris, the NBA’s top 3-point shooter, hit his first one since Game 1 with the score well out of hand. Harris was just 3 of 16 through the first four games. … Nets general manager Sean Marks was suspended for the game for entering the referees’ locker room after Brooklyn’s loss to Philadelphia in Game 4. … Simmons smothered Russell and the Nets star was held to eight points on 3 of 16 shooting.

76ers: Their 29-point halftime lead was the largest in playoff franchise history. The 31 points allowed matched the lowest in the shot-clock era.

UP NEXT

The Raptors went 3-1 vs. the Sixers this season.

“You can credit it or you can discredit it,” Brown said. “I’m discrediting it. We have a new group. We have a new opportunity.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Joel Embiid on status for Game 1 of 76ers-Nets: ‘I have no idea’

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Joel Embiid missed 14 of the 76ers’ last 24 games with a knee injury. Philadelphia opens the playoffs tomorrow afternoon against the Nets.

Rich Hoffman of The Athletic:

The 76ers are a totally different team with Embiid in or out. Not only is he an excellent two-way player, Philadelphia’s backup centers are lacking. Boban Marjanovic, Jonah Bolden and Greg Monroe are each flawed.

The Nets might not be good enough to take advantage. Philadelphia still has Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick, after all.

But Embiid missing time in this series definitely opens the door for Brooklyn.

Joel Embiid out for Sixers against Warriors Saturday, expects to return next week

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Joel Embiid played 21 minutes in the All-Star Game Feb. 17.

He has yet to play a minute since — and that includes sitting out Saturday night in a nationally televised game against the Warriors (Jonah Bolden will get the start). Philly has gone 3-1 without Embiid, but with both him and Boban Marjanovic (sprained knee) sidelined, coach Brett Brown has had to resort to unconventional and smaller lineups. This is not the Sixers rotation we will see in the playoffs, and with the in-season additions of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, this is a roster that needs time on the court together to gel.

That should start to happen next week when Embiid said he will be back. From Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

But he pushed through it at the All-Star Game, something that is raising a lot of eyebrows now. To be fair, the All-Star game is not exactly stressful minutes, nobody is playing all out or defending much, but it’s still running up and down the court on an apparently sore knee.

Any time the words “Embiid” and “injury” are in the same sentence there should be concern, but what the Sixers are doing here is the prudent course of action. The playoffs, the long term does matter more. But the fact he’s needed this much time off after the All-Star break is concerning.

The Warriors will be without Klay Thompson Saturday night, and he is their go-to perimeter defender. The size in the lineup for the Sixers — 6’10” Ben Simmons, 6’10” Tobias Harris, 6’8″ Jimmy Butler — still makes Philly a tough matchup for Golden State. We’ll see how serious the Warriors decide to take this regular season game, that is always a crap shoot.

Sixers update: Joel Embiid out Thursday vs. Thunder; Boban MRI comes back negative

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The Sixers are going to be without either of their main big men for Thursday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the news could be worse.

Joel Embiid has sat out the first three games since the All-Star break to rest a sore knee, and he was always going to be re-evaluated in one week. It also was always a smart bet he would be out longer, which is what will happen. Coach Brett Brown broke the news, with an update coming before a big weekend showdown with the Warriors.

It’s still too early to really worry for Sixers fans (outside of the level of concern that should always accompany the words “Embiid” and “injury”) but if he sits out the nationally televised game on Saturday, that’s a bigger red flag. Even if resting Embiid now is the smart play.

On the bright side, Boban Marjanovic‘s MRI came back negative from the knee injury he suffered in the final minutes of the Sixers win over the Pelicans on Monday.

He will be out for a week or so with a bone bruise and mild sprain of his knee. That could have been much worse.

Expect a lot of Jonah Bolden (who started Monday) and Amir Johnson for Philly. The challenge here is who the Sixers are facing. Oklahoma City is one of the better teams in the league and has a physical presence in the paint in Steven Adams who they could use Embiid to match up with. After that comes the Warriors and DeMarcus Cousins, who has struggled some of late but is still a force of nature.

Misadventures stall progress for 76ers

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

After an extended period of mediocrity then several years of tanking, the 76ers won 52 games and reached the second round, their best season since Allen Iverson led them to the 2001 NBA Finals.

But Philadelphia sure didn’t get the typical stability that follows a breakthrough like that.

The 76ers experienced plenty of disorder this offseason – some welcomed, some not, some between and most of it in service of adding another star.

The Process was always built on the understanding that acquiring multiple stars is both extremely difficult and all but necessary to win a championship. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, a combination many teams would envy, aren’t enough for Philadelphia.

That’s a reason the 76ers ousted Sam Hinkie, who drafted Embiid and positioned Philadelphia to make the easy call of drafting Simmons. Hinkie executed his vision smartly, but also callously. It’s hard to tank for that long without upsetting people, and the perception he turned the franchise into an embarrassment only grew. So, the 76ers turned to an executive with a more acceptable reputation around the league.

That decision that came home to roost this summer, as Bryan Colangelo’s tenure ended in a scandal far more tawdry than anything under Hinkie.

We still don’t know precisely what happened with those burner Twitter accounts, but the 76ers determined Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, ran the accounts and he mishandled private and sensitive information. The 76ers didn’t find proof he knew about the accounts, and he denied prior knowledge. But it shouldn’t be lost the team’s investigation was impeded by Bottini deleting the contents of her cell phone. Also remember: Two days after news broke of the accounts’ existence, Colangelo was still denying any knowledge of anything about them. In the midst of the biggest scandal of his career, his wife never came clean to him? That is the most unbelievable part of this saga.

So, the 76ers rightfully dumped Colangelo, even though it left them without a general manager for the draft and free agency. With that void in leadership, LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard all ended up elsewhere.

Unable to get that additional star via trade or free agency, Philadelphia used most of its cap space on J.J. Redick and Wilson Chandler.

Re-signing Redick (one year, $12.25 million) was especially important given Ersan Ilyasova’s and Marco Belinelli’s departures in free agency. Ilyasova (two years, $14 million guaranteed from the Bucks with an unguaranteed third season) and Belinelli (two years, $12 million from Spurs) were important cogs on last year’s team due their shooting. The 76ers were +42 in the playoffs when Ilyasova and Belinelli shared the court and -3 otherwise – a remarkable split for a pair of reserves.

But Philadelphia clearly didn’t want to limit its long-term star-acquiring flexibility. So, matching multi-year contracts for Ilyasova and Belinelli was a no go.

That’s why trading for Chandler was at least logical. Though overpaid, he’s on an expiring contract can can still pay. The 76ers also got second-round consideration for taking him from the tax-avoiding Nuggets.Still, it seems Philadelphia could have gotten a better free agent for that money, someone good enough to justify passing on the Denver picks.

Keeping a theme, the 76ers lost Nemanja Bjelica when he determined the one-year room exception didn’t provide him enough stability. Why he didn’t figure that out before agreeing to the deal with Philadelphia is on him, but the 76ers paid the price for his defection to the Kings on a multi-year deal.

So, still in need of a stretch big with Ilyasova and Bjelica out of the picture, Philadelphia traded Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for the Hawks’ Mike Muscala, who, naturally, is on an expiring contract. Because Muscala is a four/five (to Bjelica’s four/three), the 76ers dumped reserve center Richaun Holmes for cash. They also re-signed backup center Amir Johnson to a minimum contract for – you guessed it – one year.

Not only are the 76ers preserving 2019 cap space, they’re also stockpiling assets for their star search. On draft night, they traded No. 10 pick Mikal Bridges – who profiles as a solid role player and would have acclimated nicely to Philadelphia, where he grew up and played collegiately at Villanova – to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. That Miami pick has major upside and could be valuable in a trade with a team moving its star and rebuilding.

Philadelphia left the draft with Smith, No. 26 pick Landry Shamet and No. 54 pick Shake Milton. The 76ers also signed last year’s second-rounder Jonah Bolden to a four-year contract. It’s a nice haul of young talent to add to Philadelphia’s stockpile.

But none of those players is the star the 76ers clearly seek. After undercutting themselves, they at least did well to give themselves a chance to try again next year.

That said, maybe they already have the additional star they desire. Markelle Fultz suffered through a miserable rookie year due to the yips. Whether injury was the cause or effect barely matters now. If he finds his groove, that could swing the franchise’s fortunes for a decade. His development might be more important to Philadelphia’s offseason than any signing, trade or draft pick.

I believe Fultz has improved over the summer. But I just can’t project he’ll return to the star track that made him the No. 1 pick a year ago. That’s too big a leap of faith. Even major advances could still leave him well short of stardom.

But he is the biggest variable in offseason that saw Philadelphia lose helpful contributors, fail to maximize its ample cap space and move one year closer to Simmons joining Embiid on max contracts that will limit flexibility.

At least they’re still in strong shape for next summer.

Offseason grade: C-